WHO: Monkeypox Cases To Rise In Non-Endemic Countries

The UK Health Security Agency says a “notable proportion” of recent monkeypox cases in UK and Europe were detected in gay and bisexual men, urging this community to be alert and to seek help if concerned.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 – The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects that more countries will detect monkeypox cases, amid increased surveillance of the rare infectious disease around the world.

WHO, in a statement on May 20, mentioned that it is working with the countries affected by the disease to increase surveillance, provide support to affected people, and provide guidance on ways to manage the communicable infection.

According to WHO, monkeypox cases were reported in 12 countries that are not endemic for the disease since May 13 this year. That includes countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

As of May 21, these countries have reported a total of 92 confirmed cases, as well as 28 suspected cases of the rarely fatal disease. 

“Epidemiological investigations are ongoing, however, reported cases thus far have no established travel links to endemic areas,” WHO mentioned in a May 21 statement.

“The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox with no direct travel links to an endemic area represents a highly unusual event. Surveillance to date in non-endemic areas has been limited, but is now expanding. WHO expects that more cases in non-endemic areas will be reported.” 

The recent outbreak of monkeypox spreads through close contacts of infected individuals, including household members, health care workers, and sexual partners.

“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic,” WHO said.

“Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.”

The United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a May 20 update that a “notable proportion” of recent monkeypox cases in the UK and Europe have been detected in gay and bisexual men, urging this community in particular to be alert to symptoms and to seek help if concerned. Since May 6, UKHSA has confirmed 20 monkeypox cases in England. 

“Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex.” 

WHO similarly said monkeypox cases have mainly, but not exclusively been identified, among men who have sex with men seeking care in primary care and sexual health clinics. However, the global body noted that the extent of local transmission is still unclear and that further cases with unidentified chains of transmission will likely be detected in other population groups.

As the virus has already been identified in several countries in the European region, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge warned of an increase in monkeypox cases there. 

“As we enter the summer seasons, with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate,” Kluge was quoted as saying.

Several countries, including the UK and Belgium, have called for three-week compulsory quarantine for those who tested positive for the disease to contain the virus.

Acute rashes, fever, headache, lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes), myalgia (muscle and body aches), back pain, and asthenia (profound weakness) are some of the symptoms of monkeypox disease. 

So far, the disease is said not to be fatal and infected people usually recover in two to four weeks without a need for hospitalisation. No deaths have been reported to date in the current outbreak.

Monkeypox is endemic in countries in central and west Africa like Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

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